Speaking in tongues

No, you lil pervs, this isn’t sexual. 🙂

Michele had a great post about multiculturalism and the proliferation of many languages into mainstream America, and it got me to thinking.

There is a media committee that oversees Veggie Patch publications. They really do stay out of my way, but once in awhile, they have an idea that serves to put ants in my pants, and not in a good way. One of their latest ideas is to translate all of our columns/stories into Spanish.

After I bashed my head repeatedly on a blunt object, the quandries came spilling out. Right now, I am forced to have one ridiculously small and insignificant column run in both English and Spanish. It’s like pulling teeth to get these, and when I do get them, it’s like someone’s 4-year-old wrote them (this is just the English version). As I am only fluent in English and can swear pretty well in Italian and French, I cannot verify that the Spanish version of the column even says anything other than, “Fuck you for the two column inches you allow to diversity!”

At any rate, running my articles in two languages would double the size of the newspaper (which they are asking me to contain, as I keep expanding the size of it and blowing my production budget) — who’s gonna pay for that? And who is going to translate said columns, hmm? Wouldn’t you have to pay somebody pretty well to do this?

Not to mention, but my argument from the get-go with this so-called push for diversity has been the fact that Spanish isn’t the only other language spoken in this country. I can’t drive 10 feet without seeing a Middle Easterner in D.C. — god knows I can’t go into a 7-11 and get a pack of cigarettes in less than a half hour because “Camel Lights, in the box” is enough to confound all five people behind the counter. Today it took an additional 15 minutes just to order a hot dog to go with my cigarettes, and they gave me the wrong dog anyway.

I commented on Michele’s blog about two girls I knew growing up. One was Italian and the other was from India, and to please their parents, they spoke their native tongues all the time at home. In the Italian family, English was unacceptable at home, and speaking it there was cause for discipline. The families, we understand now, just wanted their children to love and appreciate their culture so that they could pass it along to their own children. But in school, those girls spoke better English than 75 percent of the kids who had been born to native English-speaking families.

Instead of forcing us to learn additional languages so that we can communicate with people who emigrate to this country, perhaps we should be enforcing better English skills for all. It’s amazing how many adults cannot form a complex sentence without bungling the verb tenses and the dependent clauses. I appreciate diversity — and I’m sad because although I am Irish, Italian, French and English myself, I really don’t have or do anything (other than getting reeaaalllly drunk and swearing loudly) to celebrate where I came from. But that’s OK — it was my ancestors’ choice to not retain anything particularly cultural. They probably wanted us to fit into society as best we could.

Yes, America is a “melting pot.” To me, that means that eventually, everyone blends into the culture, which may shift over time of course, but the whole point is to adapt. I can’t imagine going somewhere overseas to live for awhile and not make a full-blown effort to pick up the language.

I’ve been saying it for 10 years, and I’ll say it here. Instead of forcing kids to pick a foreign or second language to fulfill their high school requirement, schools should offer American Sign Language classes. I took one when I was 25, and I loved it. Granted, all I remember is two ways to say “bullshit,” but I didn’t practice anything other than fingerspelling and some other random gestures that I have long since forgotten. And ASL is much more useful when you’re in a bar and you can’t really hear the person next to you anyway. 🙂

But as with English, ASL would also be railed against by those who can barely comprehend, “Can I have a pack of matches?” I just don’t see why I have to deal with Spanish-speaking ATMs and voice recordings when I had thought American English was the official language of my country.


I grew up in Pittsburgh, which has its own dialect that is composed of two parts laziness, one part nonsensical words and one part redneck. When I got into school, I had no idea that “redd up” (to clean) wasn’t a real phrase. Nor did I first understand why teachers put “ing” at the end of words, when we said it, “in’.” And so on. But I loved learning English (and it was my best subject), so I got over the hick language really quickly and truly enjoyed speaking our language properly. It’s a choice to embrace our language, unfortunately, and even more unfortunately is that so many people resist it.

Comments closed.